November 1st or All Saints Day as I recall from my days wandering around in the halls of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic grade School was one of those days where we had to go to Mass. This attendance was likely an attempt to force us to make amends for having spent the previous night raising hell on Halloween. Our amends would come in the form of remembering the saints in heaven, and hopefully obtain forgiveness for gorging ourselves on candy and other sweets as we dressed up as our favorite monster, ghoul or demon the previous night. The saints we were to honor were those holy folks who had obtained a ticket to heaven in the afterlife, which allowed them to spend eternity with God the Father with his son Jesus sitting on His right side. Since it was “All Saints Day”, we were obviously honoring both the select few upper-case “S” Saints, along with the more numerous but lesser known lower-case “s” saints.
We were taught that there were two existing paths that could lead to capital “S” designation – getting tortured and murdered rather than denouncing your Catholic faith, or the more convoluted path of living a relatively moral life (abiding by the Ten Commandments and that sort of thing, at least in the later part of life), followed by performance of a few documented miracles in the after-life. Of course, the capital “S” designation could only be granted by the typesetters in charge at the Vatican, which meant those honorees had to have connections in higher places.
The unnamed lower-case saints, were those folks who gained entrance through the pearly gates by leading a relatively holy life, hence passing the final judgement test issued by St. Peter. However, their feats would remain anonymous back on planet earth since they lacked any current Vatican connections. The odds of these folks getting into heaven were also apparently improved if those who knew them in life would chip in to have some Masses said in their name after they perished and hung out in purgatory for a while so they could finish learning the lessons they missed in life. The lower-case saint designations were reserved for folks like grandparents and other somewhat kindly dead relatives we could be reunited with if we could achieve sainthood for ourselves.
Later in life I learned about another option for achieving sainthood. On this track, those with enough resources were allowed to basically buy a ticket to heaven by paying cash to designated officials. This route was similar to the first option in that these middle road saints got their names engraved on plaques somewhere in the Vatican or other higher places of worship commemorating their heaven-worthy contributions. This option was apparently eliminated to avoid the implication that heaven was a place only for the rich and famous – and instead clarify that besides paying, you also needed to pray, and obey.
My take away from the all-purpose school gymnasium/lunchroom/church where Holy Day of Obligation Masses were held was that if I wanted to spend eternity with the Big Guy in the sky, then I had better fly right and follow the examples set for us by the chosen few. Otherwise the door option I might get could lead straight to hell where I could join the ranks of those condemned to eternal damnation, who I had honored the previous night in my bloodied monster costume. So, we hellions could continue the path of tricking and treating through life where the threat of excommunication from the Church would symbolize our ultimate damnation, or we could follow one of the paths to sainthood.
For those of us lucky enough to be boys, the Priesthood was a pretty clear-cut path to heaven (although today’s headlines about the Catholic Church tend to indicate otherwise). If the priesthood required Vow of Chastity was a stumbling block, we could find a married patron Saint to guide us on our way. Despite my fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Lowry’s prediction that Priesthood would be my path, I figured that I might be better suited to following the route of the married patron saint.
When I asked my mother which Saint she had in mind when she named me, she told me she didn’t really have a particular Thomas in mind, but if she had to pick one it would probably be the Apostle Thomas. Doubting Thomas, I would learn obtained his title based on his skepticism outlined in Chapter 20 of John’s Gospel. John told us that when Thomas was informed by some of the other apostles that they had met with a risen Jesus after his apparent death on the cross, Thomas proclaimed that he would not believe such a miracle unless he could put his fingers in the crucifixion nail holes in Jesus’s hands, or the gash in Jesus’s side that finished him off. Jesus of course wasted no time in rebuking Thomas for his renewed faith after coming face to face with (or finger to hole in the hand of) the risen Savior by pointing out “Because thou hast seen me, though has believed. Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believed.”
Despite that warning that Jesus did not bless the unbelievers, and after few attempts at atonement for my unbelief with forced belief, I continue to follow the ways of my patron Saint Thomas and take the low road of doubt until proven otherwise. Life experiences have reinforced in me that blind faith in the voices from on high can lead to the following of fools. I have also concluded that those who offer us carrot or stick motivations to live according to their prophesies don’t think much of our abilities to think for ourselves what to believe or not. They use our fears or desires in an attempt to jerk us around and distract us from their own “sinful” ways. And unfortunately, these management techniques seem to dominate not only our religions, but all of our hierarchical institutions that have hidden agendas for their flocks.
And so, I have concluded that although their may be a few saints out there that are worthy of their sainthood, that I will continue to pick and choose those I look to for inspiration, not based on their post mortem title, or their rank in the hierarchy of heaven and hell, but rather in the deeds of their life. So, my goal on this November 1st will be to continue to follow the gospel of Tom, where “the proof is in the pudding”.